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Why is it we always seem to fail back into the same traps or pitfalls? Bad habits seem to always reoccur even when we work on trying to eradicate them.

For me, innovation has eight pitfalls or sink holes that we need to consciously try to avoid. Some are in our hands, others are clearly out of our hands and all we can do is try to influence them as best we can, for what we believe is right and appropriate. 

1. Failing to make innovation explicit

If we don’t set the appropriate context, provide the background understanding or provide what we know up to now, we leave our ideas, innovation or intents far too open. We end up with thousands of ideas, with 95% useless as the context was not explained. Meeting agenda’s that have no structure do the same thing, we end up rambling and in a worse outcome than when we started. Making innovation explicit and aligned to the organizations vision, its objectives, its strategy and knowing what is core and what is not, makes innovators activities far more explicit.

2. Lack of appropriate resources

This is the constant battle, the real tension point within any project. We hear “not enough in high priority areas”, “unbalanced….too little too late”, “to much in creativity not enough in execution”, “we don’t have enough discipline” or “our research dominates and restricts development” and finally “reduced involvement of the commercial people in the process” all signal misappropriation of resource or a lack of them being available at the appropriate time. This is a real sink hole we all seem to drop down into.

3. Missing Enabling Structures

When we talk about our innovation process we tend to think in the singular, we tend to view this as linear. Both of these are wrong. If innovation was such a linear process wouldn’t it be so much easier. For me the innovation process is a little like playing ‘snakes and ladders’ when I was young, constantly going back down or quickly climbing up but each fresh role of the dice might send me one way or the other.

How often do we separate out venture units, create spin outs, hive off dedicated business development groups, encourage skunk works or separate different innovation? The more we recognize innovation requires different approaches than the one pipeline or stage gate approach so much the better. We need to encourage top leadership sponsorship of unique ideas that need to be separated out, we need to often apply different tools and techniques to different types of innovation. We need to go outside far more and access our networks and collaborative environment and enable ‘them’ to assist or drive the innovation as inside it might get caught up in traditional thinking and narrow metrics.

4. Insufficient Insights

So what do customers really want from innovation? We never seem to complete enough research, or test enough validations. We tend to allow personal judgement or biases to creep in or even drive decisions. We fail to fully map the jobs-to-be-done or really look hard for the unmet needs as places where new innovation solutions can resolve. The promise of connecting into a social stream of engaged people, working their replies to your rapid prototypes, test pitches, rough designs, validation of concepts will rapidly shift insights into less insufficient and more into ‘too many’. Both have pitfalls.

5. Insufficient Engagement

Is the whole organization engaged in improving, in encouraging innovation, in contributing to the thinking, design and validating?

Does the leadership offer a stimulating environment where you want to get involved, or are large parts of the organization being totally disengaged, demotivated and disinterested?

If there is no clarity in roles, contributions, seeing your value and worth, feeling totally aggrieved about recognition and rewards then engagement suffers badly. Getting anyone to be motivated to help, to contribute, to go the extra mile needs positive engagement. Insufficient time on putting in place all the enablers means a very tough environment for the few who are engaged to achieve what they believe is possible. Insufficient Engagement from our leaders and colleagues is a real pitfall or roadblock to innovation.

6. Weak Innovation Processes

Between business strategy and product portfolio is one. A lack of discipline in the management of the innovation portfolio. A lack of clarity of purpose and design. We often see weak front ends in how ideas are captured, then enriched without referencing back to need or intent and developed in independent silo’s so the end result comes out a misfit of what is needed or initially thought.

We have this constant ability not to say no and allow concepts to drag on instead of being killed off so the resources can be channelled into something more relevant. How often do you squeeze all your product development through the same evaluation process, because it is policy? How often do you see emotion getting in the way or certain parties involved in the process strongly influence the decision making process on their position of power. All indicate weak innovation processes.

7. Lack of Balance

We often do not work all the different types of innovation available. We stick with what we are supposedly good at. We churn out the incremental product updates but fail to explore all the ten innovation types.


...or we don’t think through Geoffrey Moore’s suggestions discussed in his book "Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution",

This is where innovation is considered in the context of the category life cycle, with category being the product or service term used by customers that distinguish what it is they are buying. In this context, Moore defines innovation types consisting of: 









Value- engineered


Process innovations

Value-migration opportunities

Organic growth options

Through Acquisitions

Then you have the work that I and Jeffrey Philips undertook back in 2011 on the whole area of exploring a Collaborative Innovation Framework where we went into considerable detail on the whole collaborative bit, and within this completed an examination of innovation types which are discussed on the wiki at http://cirf.pbworks.com

All contribute to giving a different balance, a whole new raft of innovation possibilities to explore so you can avoid these repeating pitfalls or potholes.

8. Rapid Shifts in Landscapes

Finally we have such rapid shifts taking place all around us, we are often poor at recognition of change. We fail to make the context and connection of what that change really means. We simply don’t spot changes or often simply chose to ignore them as they disturb today’s business. I’m still surprised how poor many organizations are at making a really comprehensive competitive watch. They get share numbers, they see the promotion activity but there are so many sources of competitive intelligence that can build up a depth in knowledge to help anticipate or determine points of competitive difference that your customers will value and appreciate. Lastly there are such global movements in conservation, environment, emerging economies, demographic disparities, social trends and technology convergence going on, that all these do need constantly factoring into your innovation thinking.

In Summary

Of course you have the ‘common’ pitfalls of innovation we also tend to fall into. These include focusing too much on short term results, having unsupportive performance measurement systems, often a lacklustre in leadership of innovation, the hiring of the wrong employees for innovation work or not having a process to track and develop innovative ideas. All create deeper pitfalls.

Just remember sinkholes can just simply open up and you have sunk without trace. Working consciously on all the possible pitfalls around innovation can help you to avoid these sinkholes. My best advice, keep moving around, stay nimble and fill in all those holes as they emerge by working on them all the time. Spot the gaps, fill them quickly, but keep circling around on the lookout for the next one that could derail your innovation efforts.

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Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft researches and works across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provides possible answers to many issues associated with innov